Last Monday, Democratic strategist and political commentator Donna Brazile entertained Kresge with a talk titled “100 days…100 years: Obama’s Report Card and Black America”. The event, which featured UCSF political scientist James Taylor, was organized by the Stanford NAACP as part of the parent organization’s celebration of its 100 years of existence. Brazile discussed a wide array of issues ranging from Obama’s Presidency to her upbringings in Louisiana.
Brazile began by thanking the Californians in the crowd for electing Obama. She emphasized how Obama’s presidency would bring about change in the lives of millions of Americans, and how Obama did not need a poll to understand the problems of the nation’s economy. Throughout the event, she constantly lauded Obama’s administration, claiming it “created 11 million more opportunities for children to have health care,” ensured entitlements adjusted to the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) measure, spent $100 billion on education, extended unemployment benefits to both the unemployed and part-time employed, and ordered the closing of Guantanamo, among many others.
Taylor, who moderated the event, first asked Brazile about her childhood in Louisiana. Brazile explained the challenges she faced growing up as a poor African-American in the segregated South. Although she said America was changing during her youth, she noted how her parents insisted she did not sit in front at the movies or drink at water fountains. Despite her mother’s warnings, Brazile stated, “I never felt ashamed. I had role models who sat up front. My mother told me to sit but, but I defied her and sat in front. That was my spirit.” This drew much cheering from the audience, which consisted mostly of African-Americans.
When discussing the impact Obama would have on race in America, Brazile seemed cautious. She first highlighted the importance of the African American leaders who came before her who struggled to “break down walls.” However, she said that those who voted for Obama had to keep on battling for change: “Just because we opened the door to the White House does not mean we have to stop fighting.”
The most controversial part of the talk came when Brazile turned her focus to politics and the Republican Party. While often saying she supported bipartisanship and that America should not fight in terms of right versus left when the majority of America is moderate, she was quick show some partisanship herself. She began by daring popular conservative talk host Rush Limbaugh to run for President rather than criticize Obama.
Brazile’s partisanship was most noticeable when she criticized moderate Democratic members of Congress for asking liberal organizations to tone down their rhetoric against moderate Democrat politicians. Brazile argued that it was liberal organizations that set the groundwork for change, and “we should not let the moderates set the agenda… Now that we have the White House and Congress, why should we cut ourselves short?” Finally, hoping to embarrass them, she publicly mentioned the two Democrat senators, Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.), who voted against Obama’s controversial budget.
Taylor then asked Brazile whether she had any complaints about Obama’s administration. Brazile said she did, stating “just because I vote Democrat and am part of the Democratic Party doesn’t mean I’m stupid.” Her main criticism was directed at the Obama Administration’s initial indifference to the AIG bonuses, especially towards Obama’s economic advisor Larry Summers, who stated that the administration could not stop the bonuses. Brazile’s criticism was also directed at Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) for allowing the bonuses to occur in the first place. Her other major criticism was towards Obama’s inability to persuade the Afghani government to repeal a recently enacted law permitting husbands to rape their wives.
Throughout the night, Brazile received constant laughs from the audience for her humorous comments. When mentioning Mississippi, a woman from the crowd cheered for her home state. Hearing this, Brazile said, “We Louisianans love you people in Mississippi. Without you, we would rank 50th in everything”. Alluding to the explosive federal debt predicted to arise from Obama and the Democrats’ stimulus package and budget, Brazile said, “poor people know how much money we have and how much we can spend: we should but them in charge of the budget”.
Toward the end, Brazile received questions from the audience. When asked whether she had ever considered running for an elected office, she responded that she loved what she was doing and preferred to work behind the scenes. Another audience member asked her whether she felt that the increased presence of minorities in the media helped change the context in which minorities were portrayed. Brazile responded that she believed that the background of those in the media should reflect the broad diversity of our country.
Very interesting, and exactly what I hoped we could cover from an event like this.